Lances are rubbish?

I was reviewing knightly combat when I spotted an oddity in the weapon statistics chart in the corebook. Firstly, I was surprised to see how little damage Lances do (a mere +5 - the same as a farm implement and less than hitting them with a sword). Thats odd because most mediavael games tend to give the lance the advantage, especially when mounted (see Pendragon or D&D). And in Ars Magica, there is an explicit assumption that a lance is used mounted - so normally most games factor in the great weight and momentum that a charging horse lends its lance-wielding knight and make lance hits really devastating.

But the really silly thing is that in AM5, a lance does more damage if you get off your horse, stand still and poke someone with it - then it acts like a longspear and does +7 damage. "Ah", you cry "What about the attack advantage?" well its true that a lance grants a greater chance of hitting (+4 Atk) than the longspear (+3) but given the same skill and dice result, a lance wielded by a knight on foot does (one) more damage than one used by a knight on horseback.

So, is this erratted somewhere or is there a decent justification for this somewhere? Otherwise I would be tempted to bump Lance (mounted) damage up to +10 to give knights a mechanical reason to use their signature weapon on horeseback.


  1. High ground advantage need to be factored against foot opponents.
  2. You can have your horse fatigue himself to get an exertion advantage

Besides that, ypu are right as far as I can tell. One of the many cases why we do not like the weapons table in Ars at all. One of the biggest botches in the game in our very personal opinion.


Of course a lance used on horseback is a one handed weapon and while on foot as a long spear requires 2 hands, so that helps.

That said i agree with you, lances per the rules are worse than longswords, another popular knightly weapon.

What lances really need is something that makes them match real world lances. So what properties do lances in the real world have

  1. they are long, typically one can stick his opponent before the opponent is range to retaliate.
  2. they are the focus point for the weight and momentum of the warhorse and heavily armoured rider, a tremendous amount of energy focused across a very small area, of course this is pretty much what all weapons do, the virtue of the lance is that it is designed to do this for a fast moving wielder. They should thus be able to punch through armour, ribs and enemy quite easily, inflicting terrible wounds, at least when charging. Even when not charging, a lance wielded from horseback tends to put not just the riders weight behind it, but also the horses, making it deadlier than a long spear.

We could add a house rule to double damage after combat difference when o horse back and triple it when charging.
We could also maybe include a rule for allowing an initiative bons when charging to reflect the first strike nature of a lance (maybe negated by longspears/pikes/etc)

What year did heavy lances start being used?

I have the impression that most knights wearing chain armour were using swords and other stuff on horseback; proper lances only started later on, when plate armour became more common. At about 1300?

Obviously, I could be wrong.

Certainly, 'jousting' was around, with individual knights charging at one another, plus the grand melees and other 'pretend combats', but possibly there were no warhorses big enough in 1220, no plate armour, and no lances in use. Most of our impressions of lances being really effective come from films, which use ideas from Henry VIII's era (after guns put paid to most knights on the battlefield).

Any actual experts care to chip in?


Lance has +4 Atk, +5 Dam, whereas a Long Spear has +3 Atk, +7 Dam --- so, when used by a mounted knight (+3 to Atk for mounted) (and given same skill, dice roll, and opposing Dfn roll) a lance does 2 more damage than a knight wielding the same weapon on foot as a "long spear".

It is also important to note that a mounted knight with a Lance probably has a shield in his other hand, and so has a better Dfn (and gets +3 to his Dfn for being mounted, too), than the knight on foot wielding the lance two-handed as a "long spear".

Finally, note that a mounted Lance uses the Single Weapon Ability, whereas if using it on foot as a "long spear", the Great Weapon Ability is used. So, in practice a knight will probably be a hell of a lot better with the mounted lance --- because it is the same Ability Score that he is using for most of his other weapons (swords, axes, maces). Unless, he is a knight specialised in hitting things with Great Weapons (I suppose).

This article argues pretty convincingly that the long, heavy lance used in a couched position from a charging horse was known in classical times and, if the technique was ever forgotten, it was back in use by the era of the Carolingans.

Also the sword is overpowered in Ars, as it is in many RPGs. Historically the arming sword (not long sword - typically that would refer to bastard sword+ size weapons) was a high status sidearm rather than the primary killing tool on the battlefield.

While I haven't tested it, it occured to me that the simplest solution would be to give lances the same combat stats as long spears when used mounted. Doing so would make them superior to long swords used in the same circumstances and provide a solid reason of the use of mounted lances.

First of all, define "heavy lance"?

Lances are in use from at least several centuries BC. And depending on when and where, varying in size, weight, construction and style of use. In far western Europe, the "classic" underarm lance probably came into common use at least in the 11th century if not before(and its more about the distinction between lance and spear being an issue rather than use of something lancelike). In 1220 the lance was most definitely in use even in the most remote parts of western Europe.
And lack of full plate armour isnt the same as lack of good armour (compare with cataphract armour, who btw also used lances).
The Greeks under Alexander the great had heavy cavalry using a lance (Xyston) that was probably heavier than that of the "classic knight". Its disputed if it was used the same way or not. Its depicted in similar use, but its size means some consider it to need 2-handed use.

Serfs parma, but don't you use the horse's strength for the damage calculation when using a mounted lance instead of the riders?

Average horse has a str of +6, which means only a herculean knight (str +5) is going to find the damage rating of the lance on foot to be higher. Factor in the mounted advantage again and the mounted lance is the clear winner in terms of effectiveness.

I have never seen a formal written rule to that effect in this edition of ArsM. By the RAW, a lance is mechanically inferior to a long sword when both are weilded by a mounted combatant.


Although note that part of the game mechanics is cost. A lance is only standard cost, while a long sword is expensive. So, it is possible that a (poor) knight may not have access to a long sword --- even a wealthy knight might sometimes prefer to use a relatively disposable lance at times, rather than an expensive long sword.

Very nice, thank you.

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Some battle scenes from the Maciejowski Bible from around 1250. It's good to see the variety of weapons. ... 16vc&d.gif ... 42rc&d.gif ... tm14vd.gif ... elmets.jpg ... 0david.jpg ... yabesh.jpg ... 133e78.jpg

You forgot to include the Ride score (up to +3)

That's the way it's done. Makes mounted weapons far better.

Lances aren't good weapons to use compared to others (most other choices are better), even when mounted. I seem to recall this was brought up before when discussing LoM. I think it was suggested to use a bonus to initiative when charging with a lance. That would probably make them more useful. (I can picture a knight charging with the lance, then tossing it aside since they're cheapish, and continueing to fight with a longsword)

But the high cost is a virtue - any sergeant can carry a lance but only a man of wealth and status can afford his own sword so if you see someone wearing a sword then they are not merely armed and dangerous but someone to be reckoned with. Plus it is an adequate melee weapon that you can wear on your hip.

A poorer knight might have a sword of poorer quality but he will have one for sure.
War horses were more costly than swords.

Yes, wealthier knights used lances when they went war. Especially because it was their main weapon.

Knights in general weren't idiots. They tossed aside lances after they broke or reaching melee range.

Probably, but he might not have a Long Sword --- and a poor quality one will presumably have some sort of mechanical disadvantage.

And cars are (generally) more expensive than personal computers. That doesn't mean everyone with a car can also afford a personal computer.

Real life or roleplayer long sword? In 1220 they will have no RL long swords.
Swords in real life weren't so expensive. Quality swords were. A bit similar like armors or everything. The rich guys had far better quality armor than the average knights.

I mean what is listed in the game mechanics as a Long Sword. It doesn't really matter precsisely what it is.

It's better and more expensive than whatever a Short Sword is.

Afterall, if you want to get really picky it won't be called a sword at all --- but a sweord, or swert or something ...

Seriously, if there's ever a 6th edition, we need to clean this longsword thing right up. It irks me no end.

Cost isn't a limiting mechanic when the covenant pays for your gear. Sure, most knights had cheap lances which were disposable: they still shouldn't suck. If they really did suck, Ars style, then the Hungarians wouldn't have given up horse archery for lances in the game period.